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Problem-solving: an essential soft skill to develop

When applying for jobs, you might wonder about the differences between hard and soft skills. Hard skills are technical skills or abilities specific to a particular job you generally develop through education or training programs, such as an accounting degree or software skills. Soft skills refer to non-measurable personal qualities and characteristics. They can be more complicated to define than hard skills.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are general traits or characteristics that can help individuals thrive personally and professionally. Soft skills refer to interpersonal and behavioral skills and are sometimes called "nontechnical skills," since they are transferable across all jobs and industries.

Describing soft skills can make them easier to understand. Soft skills such as communication and teamwork help individuals work well with others. Soft skills like creativity and time management can make employees more valuable and productive.

Other examples of soft skills include:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Adaptability
  • Critical thinking
  • Leadership
  • Persuasion
  • Decision-making
  • Resourcefulness
  • Integrity
  • Attention to detail
  • Negotiation

Why are soft skills important?

Soft skills contribute to an individual's ability to manage and motivate themselves, work well with a team, and be an effective leader within the organization. Managers often seek candidates with a combination of soft skills and hard skills.

Is problem-solving a soft skill?

Problem-solving is a soft skill that applies to almost any position and industry. While everyone faces some form of problem-solving in their work or environment, not everybody has developed effective problem-solving skills. Getting clarity on the various aspects of problem-solving can help you develop these skills.

Because problem-solving skills are important across all industries, individuals with well-honed problem-solving abilities are assets to any organization. Not matter the business, problems consistently arise and must be resolved. Business managers and office managers use various problem-solving skills frequently, often on a daily basis. When you're in a management position, one of the most important things you do is handle the day-to-day issues that arise for your employees.

What are the essential skills for successful problem-solving?

Problem-solving might seem simple, but many employees struggle with one or multiple key steps. Successful problem-solving uses several essential skills to help you proceed efficiently from identification to implementation.

Problem-solving requires observational skills, lateral thinking, and critical analysis abilities. Using a combination of these skills can help you identify the issue and determine the underlying cause that's creating the problem.

"You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created." — Albert Einstein

As you determine possible solutions, persistence, innovative thinking, and adaptability skills come into play. Employees who understand how to use their creative thinking faculties can develop possibilities that others have overlooked.

For the final stage of problem-solving — implementing your solution — both teamwork and leadership skills are necessary. If co-workers are reluctant to make necessary changes, you might use communication, persuasion, and negotiation skills.

Once you determine and implement a potential solution, you'll still need to follow through and ensure the problem is truly resolved. You might need to make adjustments to your strategy to eliminate the original issue completely.

How can you improve your problem-solving skills?

Improving your problem-solving skills will give you a definite edge both in management jobs and other positions within the company. You can hone your problem-solving skills by:

  • Practicing brainstorming activities such as mind mapping
  • Approaching daily circumstances with a "what if" mentality, regularly testing new approaches
  • Keeping an idea journal in which you jot down all your ideas, even the ones that seem unrealistic
  • Working through logic games and puzzles like sudoku or Wordle
  • Following industry publications covering the latest software and strategies for common issues
  • Demonstrating problem-solving on your resume

Employers look for new hires who can demonstrate soft skills such as problem-solving. It's not enough to merely state "problem-solving skills" on your resume. Write about specific examples of how you've used these skills in past positions to make your resume stand out from the rest.

How can you feature problem-solving skills on your resume?

When demonstrating your problem-solving skills on a resume, you should concisely show how you identified the problem, developed a solution, and implemented your new strategy.

Examples of strong problem-solving statements include:

  1. Reduced safety violations by 35% by installing strategically placed railings on the production floor.
  2. Increased customer satisfaction ratings by 27% by developing new scripts to address common questions.
  3. Cut shipping expenses by 12% quarterly with customized software solutions.

Make it easy to see that you saw a problem relevant to your department, found an innovative way to resolve it, and achieved measurable results with your chosen strategy.

Demonstrating problem-solving is important no matter the position for which you're applying. You problem-solve every time you deal with a demanding customer in customer service. If you are an accountant, you problem-solve ways to cut costs and boost revenue. Contractors solve issues when a client's requests seem unattainable for the given construction space or budget.

Problem-solving skills are as varied as the unexpected issues that may arise. Incorporate the skills mentioned here to leverage successful results. Make sure you feature examples of your problem-solving successes on your resume. When you upload your resume, hiring managers will have no trouble identifying you as a strong problem-solver.

More information about skills for your resume:

Learn everything you need to know about soft skills.

Make your resume stand out by highlighting the most in-demand job skills.

Check out this step-by-step guide on how to build your perfect resume.